The Trump administration announced Sunday that it might withhold more than half of the $125 million, the first installment of donations, to the United Nations Relief and Works agency, which provides money for Palestinian refugees.
The announcement prompted Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, to go on a two-hour rant criticizing President Donald Trump’s proposal as the “slap of the century” and the president’s attitude as “a slap in the face,” both of which the Palestinians plan to “slap back” against.
The plan has not been implemented, with the State Department commenting Sunday that “the decision is under review. There are still deliberations taking place.” If the plan were implemented, the Palestinians would still receive $60 million in the first installment of donations.
Tensions stem from the on-going negotiations to resolve hostilities in the region. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley advised U.S. officials to stall the funds until Palestinians resume peace talks with Israel.
The U.S. is the largest donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which “focuses on providing health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.” The U.S. government believes severing cashflow to the agency would put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table for a peace deal with Israel and to crack down on Palestinian militants.
Trump has pointed to the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian progress as motivation for the measure.
In a tweet, Trump said, “We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” he said. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Abbas’ speech not only followed the announced plan to cut funding for refugees but also came in the wake of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel.
“We are in a very dangerous stage,” Abbas said. “There is nothing more important than Jerusalem.”
According to The Associated Press, Abbas said, “Our eternal capital is Jerusalem, and we will not accept what is being offered to us to make Abu Dis the capital of Palestine instead of the city of Jerusalem.”
Speaking directly to Trump, Abbas said “Yekhreb Beitak,” which translates to “may your house be demolished.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to speculate that Abbas’ words indicated deeper hostilities.
In a statement on Facebook, Netanyahu said: “(Abbas) has revealed the truth. He has torn off the mask and shown to the public the simple truth that I have been working to instill for many long years: The root of the conflict between us and the Palestinians is their steadfast refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any borders whatsoever.”